Around mid 2006, I attended a running seminar given by the founder of the Running Room, John Stanton. By the end of the seminar, I was motivated to take my casual running to the next level and set a goal to complete my first marathon before I turned forty. I wanted to do something for me for a change.
I registered for the Montreal marathon and started a running regimen over the next eighteen weeks. I did not have a heart rate monitor nor was I able to accurately gage my running pace. I simply used a pedometer to estimate distances of my runs over the course of those weeks and logged the miles per the plan. Having registered for the marathon kept me motivated to keep training. September came and the big day arrived. The weather was perfect. I had visualized the course over the previous few days and had planned all the hydration stations in my run strategy. I figured I would complete the distance in the 4:30 pace group. For the first 21km, I felt strong and completed the half in 2 hours flat. Then I started to slow at about km 30. My legs felt heavy and the people who had been running around me started to pull ahead. By km 34, I was literally on autopilot and was shuffling along. It took everything I had just to keep going. I had to break it down into short objectives ; “just to the top of the hill”; “just to the next corner”; “just to the next km marker…” It was the most brutal experience of my life. I finally completed the second half in 2:45. I had achieved my goal but my execution was not the greatest.
The following January, I registered for the Ottawa marathon. This time, I had a heart rate monitor and also was able to measure my pace and speed. I set a stretch goal to complete the marathon in 4 hours and planned my training distances and speeds to support that objective. My training was more structured and my progress was measurable. Come my last training run, I was confident I would meet my goal. I completed the marathon in 3:52!
When you set stretch goals, you have to make sure they are aggressive enough to be a challenge but not so aggressive that they are impossible to achieve. I like to call these “Big Hairy Audacious Goals”, or BHAGs for short. By setting BHAGs, you can achieve more than you initially thought possible because you are moving the psychological barrier beyond the realm of what is expected – if you aim for a conservative goal from the get-go, you inherently limit your chances of achieving that target.
You can actually test this theory quite simply by just doing a standing jump. Put your feet together and jump forward as far as you can. Mark the point you land on the ground. Now try the same jump again but visualize yourself jumping to a point beyond that mark. You will undoubtedly jump further the second time.
Having said that, a goal, no matter how big, is nothing if we don’t have a plan to reach it. In my preparation for my second marathon, I was much more scientific in my approach and measured my progress along the way.
As a sidenote, I subsequently set another BHAG to qualify for the Boston marathon in 2010. That implied improving my time by an additional 40 minutes within a year. Now here is the interesting thing I discovered: I reached my BHAG in 4 months! This tells me that; 1. my goal was not as audacious as I thought – I underestimated my ability, and; 2. I experienced a strange lost feeling once I reached it.
Although I was ecstatic for having reached my goal, for a while I felt like I no longer had a mission. I know that this has something to do with my goal-oriented personality – I feel like I have to always have goals and action plans to keep motivated. So you may want to keep these thoughts in mind as well:
- It’s ok if you don’t initially reach your BHAG, that’s why we set our sights high in the first place – to push our limits. Celebrate your success. Especially if you exceeded what you had initially thought was your desired outcome.
- Sometimes if we reach a BHAG too easily we may have underestimated our potential. Don’t dwell on the “if I had only set a higher goal” type of feelings, but rather make sure you celebrate that success and learn from it to set more audacious goals next time, and finally;
- Be aware of the emotional aspect of not reaching BHAGs or reaching them too quickly. Some people will respond differently in these situations. Be conscious of the different personality types – goal oriented people will experience a sense of accomplishment but also a feeling of being lost if another goal is not set – make sure to keep the momentum and embark on a new objective.
Goal-setting is an important part of our professional and personal journey so go ahead and leave a comment or share your own stories or tricks about how you achieve your goals.